Friday, June 26, 2009

Rearranging the Dust

It was a long week--and the icing on the cake was 15 piano students in a row on Thursday--but my reward was a 3-day week-end.  And I spent part of it working on what I started last week-end--getting rid of clutter and rearranging what's left in an attempt to make my 1600 square feet of home better accommodate seven people and an in-home business.  

The first step was moving the desk and filing cabinet out of my bedroom and into my piano studio, and replacing them with the table and chairs and craft supplies that I crammed into the studio when my new family moved in.  I wish I had done this months ago.  Now my piano studio looks and feels like the office space it is, and it has been great having my desktop computer right behind my teaching piano.  Last week, I used to to listen to music online with some of my piano students, and to show others how to access my website (www.asberryschoolofmusic) to get to the learning links located there.  Furthermore, I was able to tuck all those random boxes of photos and beads and this and that under my bed, so the bedroom doesn't look messy like the piano studio did, and I am much more likely to actually work on scrapbooking and jewelry in the bedroom--my sanctuary--evenings, after I am finished teaching, while John and I watch something on television or listen to music.  

Here is the office space in my new and improved piano studio.

And, just for fun, here is the stuffed monkey that sits on top of my piano.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Spring Piano Recital

The Asberry School of Music Spring Piano Recitals took place on Saturday.  That's plural because I have so many students I split them into two groups and plan two separate programs.  This year, the two programs totaled about an hour and forty-five minutes, and it would be unreasonable of me to expect any normal six-year old, after playing his piece in thirty seconds flat, to sit through another hour and forty-five minutes of music.  I think the parents appreciate this, too.  Although one family actually stuck around for the second recital after their daughter performed in the first. Everyone played well.  I have taken small groups to play at area assisted living centers throughout the year, and I believe that has made a tremendous difference. Overall, the kids who took advantage of those extra performance opportunities appeared more relaxed and confident in the recital, and they played better as a result.  And there was a great variety of music--everything from a duet arrangement of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" (performed by six-year old twin girls, adorable!) to a student arrangement of "My Heart Will Go On" to Billy Joel's "Root Beer Rag" to Debussy's "The Sunken Cathedral" to a student composition that deserves air time on Whisperings Solo Piano Radio.  (Are you reading this, David Nevue?)

My favorite part is seeing the huge grins on those little faces as the last note of each piece is played.   One parent told me that their children's favorite part was the goody bags I sent home afterwards (consolation prizes since our venue no longer allows refreshments)  My least favorite part was saying good-bye to my seniors and another student who is moving out-of-state this summer.  I will miss you all greatly!



Friday, June 19, 2009

Missing John

John left for New York on Tuesday. He finally got a contract on his house--hurray!--and will close in just a few days. So he has been busy emptying closets and drawers, preparing for a big moving sale tomorrow. His kids were already gone; they flew up to the Empire State on Saturday to spend five weeks with their mother. So it's just Casey, Nathan and me for a while. The house is contentedly quiet, and my boys are generally low-maintenance. But, although my to-do list is long, all I have really done since John left is make sure Nathan gets where he needs to go, teach my piano students (our spring recital is tomorrow) and SLEEP. I can't remember when I have been so tired. Maybe I should toss the to-do list. Maybe what I really need is a vacation. Or at least a fun day out. I miss John. Here is a picture of us at at the Inman Park Festival in April. Can you tell we were having a good time?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My Life as a Piano Teacher

It has been a busy spring at Asberry School of Music. Since February, students of mine have participated in the following events:

(1) NFMC Federated Festival (26 Superiors, 2 Excellents, 7 15-point gold cups, 2 30-point gold cups)

Hayley with her 30-point gold cup

Emily with her 30-point gold cup

(2) GMTA Local Auditions (1 Outstanding Performer, 1 Honorable Mention)

(3) GCMTA Ensemble Concert (a "monster concert," if you will--five grand pianos on stage with two students at each piano, performing duets while following a conductor)

John with me after the ensemble concert

(4) GMTA State Auditions (1 Honorable Mention)

(5) Detroit Midwest Fleadh (an Irish music competition--my student, Liam, won first place in all three piano events he entered!)

(6) Kody/Robin Extravaganza--presented by my two graduating seniors; in the program, I was cited for "pianistic perfection" and "pre-show preparation," but these kids did all the work themselves, demonstrating that I have met my goal of making my students independent of me!

Robin/Kody with Ms. Pam

(7) I also took small groups of students to several assisted living enters in the area to perform for the residents.

Hope with Ms. Pam and John at Brookside Senior Living Community

(8) And I hosted a composition/improvisation workshop presented by Dr. Joseph Akins. That evening, Joseph and local musician Stanton Lanier gave a solo piano concert at Piano Works in Duluth. It was a very special time.

Stanton Lanier, Ms. Pam, and Joseph Akins

Finally, I attended the 2009 MTNA National Conference, which was held in Atlanta in March. I heard some wonderful speakers and listened to some great music. I think it is accurate to say that I learned things that will revolutionize the way I teach piano. More on that later.

* * *

I LOVE being a piano teacher. I started taking piano lessons shortly after my seventh birthday, decided that I wanted to be a piano teacher when I grew up, and never looked back. But as much as I love playing the piano and coaching others, in some ways my job goes against my nature. When I am teaching, I am "on." But I am introverted by nature. Now, by "introverted," I don't mean shy. When I was in high school, I was extremely shy, quiet and awkward. I am over that. Just ask anybody who knows me well. According to about. com, "an introvert is a person who is energized by being alone and whose energy is drained by being around other people." I teach six or seven hours a day. That's twelve to fourteen students in a row, and I often interact, at least in a limited way, with their parents and siblings, as well. That explains why I often make hasty retreat to my room as soon as I am finished. I just need some time to re-charge my batteries.

And, for the record, what I do is a full-time job. I see 50-some piano students every week. Most have 30-minute private lessons; a handful have 45-minute or 60-minute lessons. That comes to "only" about 30 hours a week of actual face time. But add mountains of paperwork and time spent planning for and participating in the above events, and it is easy to see that I put in well over 40 hours a week--including lots of time at night and on week-ends.

But this is the hardest part. A couple of weeks ago, a family that I have worked with for six years made the decision to stop their children's lessons with me because they had issues with some of my studio policies--reasonable, clear policies that have been in place for the past three years. This situation still troubles me a lot, because these students loved coming to lessons, practiced faithfully, and were progressing beautifully. Not only that, just a month or so ago, the parents invited John and me over to look at a house that was for sale two doors down from them. They told us how great it would be to have us as neighbors, and drooled at the prospect of their kids being able to WALK to piano lessons! The manner in which the parents chose to end their relationship with me was ugly and hurtful. In a series of e-mails, I was accused of being money-grubbing and unprofessional. In the end, despite the fact that I met all their demands, they withdrew anyway. It was all very confusing. There has to be more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye. (Maybe they were upset because we didn't buy the house?) I cried myself to sleep two nights in a row. The worst thing was that I didn't even get to say good-bye to the children! The strangest part was receiving a check for their June tuition in the mail, along with a letter from the mother saying I am "an incredible piano teacher" and "I love you, Pam." (Call me cynical, but I think this might have had something to do with the final e-mail I sent her--although the opening line of the letter was that she had not opened that message, nor did she intend to--in which I responded to her assertion that telling me in May--on the 29th!--that they wouldn't be returning for lessons in June was "a month's notice," and therefore released them from obligation to pay June tuition. I further offered to meet with them and their pastor so that we could clear the air between us. It seemed a shame to me to end a six-year relationship on such an acrimonious note. Maybe that was too confronting.)

So I was asking myself a lot of questions. Then, just minutes after opening the check and the letter, I received an e-mail from a former student, explaining that he had "needed to take some time this past year to put [his] piano playing in perspective," but he knows now what "a great teacher" I am, and asking if I have any openings in my fall schedule. (It just so happens I do--see the preceding paragraph!) I met with him yesterday, and it appears that we are going to be able to renew our relationship in a mutually satisfactory way. Is that synchronicity, or WHAT?!?

* * *

My Spring Piano Recitals will be held at Piano Works this Saturday at 1:30 and 3:00 PM. The following week I will wrap up this academic year, the week after that I will teach a couple of days of make-up lessons, and then my summer schedule begins. This year, I have just a handful of students continuing through the month of July; it looks like I will be teaching Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. That will leave me with some time to reflect on the past and prepare for the future.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Growing Pains

There's trouble in Paradise. I'm not going to go into all the details in this public forum (although some of you may have read my middle-of-the-night post a couple of weeks ago, the one I thought better of the next morning and deleted, and I thank those of you who contacted me personally for your supportive, encouraging responses). But our cookie is starting to crumble. As I suspected, the seven of us are finding it challenging to blissfully co-exist in a 1600 square foot home with two dogs and 50-odd piano students and their families. It was bearable at first, because we believed it was a temporary situation. My worst-case-scenario was that we would have to wait until the summer to move. Well, school is out and summer is upon us, and we are stuck right where we are. John is still making payments on his house in New York, he still isn't working, and he and his ex are still trying to hash out the terms of their separation agreement--which had to be revised when he made the decision to move with the kids to Georgia. The kids are fighting, the dogs are fighting, and John and I are endlessly racking our brains trying to figure out how to make things work better for everyone.

We all get a temporary reprieve beginning on Saturday, when John's three kids leave for five weeks with their mother in New York. Just yesterday, John and I came up ideas for a few changes we can make which will help eliminate at least a couple of the biggest sources of conflict in the house. I am excited about that. And I have just three weeks of full-time lessons left to teach before my summer schedule begins. It looks like I will be teaching only one day a week in July, which will leave me with the time I need to tear through the house and rearrange and de-clutter (and paint those interior doors that I had installed FOUR YEARS AGO). I haven't figured out how I am going to pay my bills in July. I finished Financial Peace University just last night (I have the certificate to prove it) so I am determined not to use credit cards. But for now, I'm going to focus on what I CAN do--and do it.

Anyway, this situation I am in is forcing me to re-think EVERYTHING. I will turn 50 in August (I hate to admit it) but I have determined that my 50's is going to be my most exciting, creative, productive decade to date. I am starting with a renewed commitment to daily exercise and healthy diet; taking better care of myself is the foundation. But there are three additional areas that I am determined to make time for. I have finished my first online writing class, and with my instructor's encouragement, I am going to write that novel. I attended a workshop on piano improvisation and composition on Saturday; I know what to do, so I am going to make time to practice playing jazz and blues and write my own music. And I am going to get to started on all the artsy projects that are swimming around in my head--beautiful things I want to make with beads and yarn and fabric. The work starts TODAY. I will keep you posted on my progress.